If Colette could be classed as a period drama then it is one which redefines what such a genre is capable of achieving.
Pioneers in literature can come from any walk of life. Austen, Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce, Shakespeare and Borges are the ones who have influenced my life if not necessarily my love of language. To find a voice and recognise it for being solely singular, uniquely your own and unequivocally without compare can be life changing. To do so at a time when gender roles were in flux, social boundaries brazenly pliable and cultural mediums still defining themselves is quite another. What director Wash Westmoreland and Kiera Knightley do in Colette is shine a light on that time period of extreme change when all social bets were off.
Sidonie Gabrielle Colette stands out in French history as a bastion of change, lady of letters and usurper of the status quo. She was an author, performer and artist who penned numerous semi-autobiographical stories collectively known as the Claudine series. Her husband was a cad and philanderer who encouraged and flagrantly profited, which saw them separate only moments into the twentieth century. It is this period that Westmoreland focuses on and one in which Knightley dominates with refined elegance, clipped eloquence and distinct decadence.
Her performance is measured and more than a match for Dominic West as the aristocratic libertine Willy. From coquettish country girl to confident literary salon ingénue Knightley is by turns salacious, sultry and intellectually savvy. Much has been made of the fluid nature of genders as represented here since traditional roles fashionably overlapped at this time. With two transgender actors included within the eclectic cast it only adds an additional level of authenticity whilst promoting debate which was surely the intent.
Whether interpretations of identity either artistic, personal or professional are central to Colette, there is no escaping the relevance that this film possesses in our current climate. It addresses the issue from a historical standpoint by illustrating how social preconceptions today are still in denial, even in the face of public acceptance or private acquiescence. That Westmoreland wraps his debates up in a period piece distraction filled with Merchant Ivory opulence and historical frippery, whilst doing justice to his subject matter is to be applauded.
Late nineteenth century Paris and all its artistic fluidity is brought sumptuously to life allowing Knightley and West to exist within an ensemble which make pertinent points without preaching. Outside of the transgender discussion this film addresses artistic ownership and identity on a more basic level, whilst Knightley keeps everything grounded through her deceptively naturalistic performance. If Colette could be classed as a period drama then it is one which redefines what such a genre is capable of achieving. Intelligent and intriguing with more than an element of truth this is a film with things to say, just when society has begun listening.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Wash Westmoreland
Written by: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Denise Gough, Aiysha Hart
Released: 2018 / Genre: Biopic
Country: USA/UK/Hungary / IMDB
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Colette is out now on digital download, Blu-Ray™ and DVD.